Russia on Tuesday reported its highest-ever number of daily virus deaths and new infections, fuelling fears of a second wave of the pandemic.
There were 13,868 new cases and 244 virus deaths, the government’s coronavirus crisis centre said, with both figures surpassing records set since the start of the Covid-19 outbreak.
With the fourth-highest infection tally in the world, Russia has recorded just under 23,000 fatalities since the start of the pandemic — far fewer than in other badly-hit countries.
Officials earlier said they were only counting deaths directly caused by the virus, leading critics to accuse Moscow of under-reporting the mortality rate to downplay the seriousness of the situation.
Speaking to journalists on Monday, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said “more advanced treatment protocols” are leading to a lower death rate.
Although virus cases in Russia have been on the rise for several weeks, authorities are reluctant to reintroduce strict lockdown measures.
Deputy Health Minister Oleg Gridnev said on Tuesday that 90 percent of hospital beds set aside for coronavirus patients were already occupied.
At the same time 20 percent of all hospitalised coronavirus patients had relatively mild symptoms, Gridnev told a conference according to state news agency RIA Novosti.
Compared to the first wave of the epidemic in the spring, the elderly and people with chronic illnesses are worse affected this time, said a top epidemiologist.
“The infection has hit people who are older,” Alexander Gorelov, deputy head of the Central Research Institute of Epidemiology, was quoted as saying.
At the start of the pandemic, Russia imposed sweeping restrictions, shutting all non-essential businesses and controlling the movements of infected individuals using a tracking app.
Most restrictions were lifted in June ahead of a vote on constitutional amendments that paved the way for Putin to stay in power until 2036.
Some restrictions have been reimposed in capital Moscow, which accounts for roughly 30 percent of the country’s caseload.
Last week, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said the city was making the “necessary decisions” and called on residents to limit movements until a vaccine was available for mass distribution.
In August, Russia announced the registration of what it claimed was the world’s first coronavirus vaccine, named Sputnik V after the 1950s Soviet satellite. A number of officials have said they volunteered for inoculation.
The vaccine is currently undergoing post-registration trials in which some 40,000 volunteers are taking part.